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How to Use Actionable Messages for Outlook 365

Dynamic emails containing interactive content are emerging as the next step in email marketing’s evolution. There’s a growing number of third-party solutions as well as open source projects such as AMP for email that allow subscribers to take action within an email message.

After Outlook ended support for AMP in 2020, Microsoft nudged email developers toward its Actionable Messages as well as its related Adaptive Cards instead. If you work in one of the many organizations using Microsoft tools, email teams may soon be asked to create internal emails that take advantage of the functionality available in Actionable Messages.

What are Actionable Messages in Outlook?

Actionable Messages enable organizations to create emails that allow for specific engagements to be performed without leaving the inbox. They are typically used for internal communications and could enable Outlook users to:  

  • Approve or decline an expense report
  • Set the due date of a task
  • Respond to a survey
  • Add a comment to a GitHub issue
  • Approve or update a travel itinerary
  • Pay a bill
  • And so much more

Actionable Messages are all about improving email efficiency by reducing the number of engagements required to perform a specific task. This means no more clicking out of the inbox, remembering log-in details for various third-party applications, navigating potentially unfamiliar user interfaces, and any number of other distractions that prevent a timely and accurate response.

As any email marketer will tell you, the more clicks between a CTA and its objective, the less likely it will achieve its goals. 

With Actionable Messages, an individual or group receives an email with all of the tools (buttons, text boxes, drop-down menus, etc.) that they need to complete a task. This information is displayed within an “Adaptive Card," configured to suit your specific requirements. The data compiled from these Actionable Messages is then relayed back to the author of the email and made available directly in their inbox.

Driving maximum efficiency with Actionable Messages 

The levels of efficiency afforded by Actionable Messages can be staggering, even for the simplest of tasks.

For example:

An event organizer uses Actionable Messages to survey delegates about their dietary requirements for an all-day training event. Delegates are presented with three options: Meat, Vegan, and Other (with a text box to input their requirements). Unless the delegates have a specific "other" requirement, they simply have to check the box and then get on with the rest of their day. Those requesting "other" options just have to type in their specific needs such as Kosher, gluten-free, etc., into the text box, hit send, and the job is done. 

The event organizer will then have all of the information they need in a single email (no trawling through multiple replies) to book the catering for the event and ensure everyone is fed.

Scale this up to more complex team or project management tasks, and the savings in time and the benefits from more accurate, actionable data collected by Actionable Messages become highly tangible and competitive assets.

Collaborative tools for the new normal

Any step to improve a greater collaborative effort would be welcome at any time. However, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with remote working becoming the new normal, having the technology to bring everyone together simply and efficiently is more important than ever.

With team members competing for wi-fi with their children's homeschooling and more people relying on mobile devices to do the work they would typically do on a desktop device, creating a more productive environment in the inbox seems like an excellent idea.

Find out more about how changes in the world have changed email best practices in our special report: Email Marketing and the Next Normal.

Connectors: Bringing everyone together

For Actionable Messages to be truly useful to the enterprise, they do require some significant computing power. Thankfully, this is provided with an extensive network of third-party applications known as "Connectors."

Some of the more popular “Connectors” for Actionable Messages include developer tools like GitHub and Bitbucket, project and customer management software like Trello, Asana, and Zendesk, and social media platforms like Twitter.

With enterprises relying on multiple applications to run their businesses, the advantages of bringing all their systems together in the inbox are obvious.

The elephant in the room

There is, of course, one significant limiting factor to Actionable Messages. They only work in the Microsoft Outlook environment. This may prove problematic for organizations working with third-party contractors who may use other email services such as Gmail.

There is an alternative to Actionable Messages called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for organizations using Google's suite of services. However, as reported here on the Email on Acid Blog, Microsoft turned off AMP's ability in the Outlook environment in October 2020.

There are also many dynamic email creation tools as well as email building platforms such as ContactMonkey, which offers solutions for both Outlook and G-suite internal emails.

Even without considering Actionable Messages, this highlights the fact that the email environment is still a highly competitive space. With no uniformity across service providers, pre-deployment services like Email on Acid should be a vital component of your email pre-deployment strategy.

Why should email marketers care about Actionable Messages?

As we’ve already mentioned, Actionable Messages are primarily used for internal communications and, due to the limited cross-platform inbox support, are not yet a viable option for email marketers. In theory, however, you could segment your subscribers by email client if desired. But the limitations don’t mean that email departments should ignore Actionable Messages.

Marketers can influence the profitability of an organization in two ways. They can actively promote the products and services of an organization and help to generate income. Alternatively, they can work with other departments within the organization and look for ways to save money. Whether it’s a dollar earned or a dollar saved, it always looks good on a balance sheet. Email marketers will, of course, understand how their collaborations with other marketing disciplines can add to the bottom line.

The Adaptive Card component of Actionable Messages will require an element of coding using JSON script. JSON is a reasonably simple language to read and edit and will present few problems for email developers who are experienced in working with HTML and other scripts. Once deployed, Actionable Messages can and should be optimized based on experience and on-going testing. Therefore there really is no better department to take ownership of Actionable Messages.

How to get started with Actionable Messages

Microsoft provides a wide range of resources for anyone interested in learning more about Actionable Messages. The following video is a great place to start:


For more detailed advice, including tips on coping strategies and the various third-party applications coming on board as Connectors, check out this starter guide.

How could Actionable Messages help your organization increase inbox efficiency? Share your comments below.

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